Sounds of Silence

June 11th, 2009 | Sources: Economist

Electricity powered cars not only run cleaner than their gasoline powered ancestors, they also run more quietly.

outofmywayFor inhabitants of noise-polluted cities, this might seem like a positive but there is growing concern that pedestrians and cyclists can’t hear the cool-running vehicles, thus increasing the risk of accidents

That’s why many believe it’s time to trick-out electric and hybrid cars with external sound systems.

In fact Congress is considering a bill that would establish minimum sound levels for non-gasoline powered vehicles so that the visually impaired and pedestrians can hear them approach. The European Commission is pondering a similar proposal.

What kind of sounds should electricity powered vehicles make? Perhaps they could beep as do some pedestrian crossings, or buzz like a power tool.

The work of Laurence Rosenblum and colleagues at UC California Riverside has convinced them otherwise. “People want cars to sound like cars,” he told the Economist. The sound needn’t be loud; just a slight enhancement of the current noise would suffice to improve safety substantially, he added.

Such external sound systems are already in the works. Lotus Engineering, for example, recently inked a deal with audio system maker Harman Becker to produce one. Their system also produces internal sounds that change with speed and use of the throttle, providing audible feedback to drivers.

This means carmakers will soon be able to create sounds that help with brand promotion. Drivers might someday even be able to select from a menu of engine sounds, perhaps downloading them like ringtones.

The Fisker Karma, for example, will be outfitted with a sound generator when the luxury electric hybrid goes into production late this year. It will be up to Fisker to decide how, exactly, a luxury electric vehicle should sound.


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